“This truth can be painful; can shatter many of your illusions. This is a paradox we have to accept: the extreme violence of liberation. You must be forced to be free. If you trust simply your spontaneous sense of well-being . . . you will never get free. Freedom hurts.”
–Philosopher Slavoj Zizek, from the film “The Perverts Guide to Ideology”
Yesterday, I graduated from a 500 hour yoga teacher training course. I’ve been working on this for 3 years total. I got my first 200 hours in 2011, which took about 6 months. You can think of it as sort of the yoga teacher undergrad. I taught for a year and a half before beginning school again to add the next 300 hours, which took over a year. I consider this my “yoga Master’s degree.” Not that I’ve mastered it yet; that will take at least one lifetime, maybe more. There was another graduate yesterday who completed the 1000 hour program, which I think of as the “yoga PhD.” The process of earning these certifications was of course educational. We learned anatomy, physiology, philosophy, history, asanas, sequencing, different styles of yoga, meditation, mantras, Sanskrit, the Bhagavad Gita and the yoga sutras. However the most impactful aspect of this journey has by far been my own personal and spiritual growth. The main reason I took over a year off between my 200 and 500 hour courses was that I needed an emotional breather. This training sometimes felt much like the intense therapy I went through after my mother died. It ripped me open then filled me back up. I alternately felt vulnerable, raw, and overwhelmed, then whole, calm, and confident. The happy tears were just as frequent as the sad ones. My yoga practice was sometimes confrontational, forcing me to look at the shadows within me. Somehow the same practice also comforted me and gave me strength. It taught me to breathe through the darkness and to begin to shine light into all the crevices of my ego, to see the patterns and habits that hid there. In order to release negative energy that has been suppressed, you must first bring it up. It doesn’t feel good, it’s emotionally draining and mentally exhausting. Much like a physical detox, you feel worse before you feel better. But when you come out the other side, it is amazing.
In Genesis there is a story about Jacob wrestling with a divine being:
So Jacob was left alone, and a man wrestled with him till daybreak. When the man saw that he could not overpower him, he touched the socket of Jacob’s hip so that his hip was wrenched as he wrestled with the man. Then the man said, “Let me go, for it is daybreak.” But Jacob replied, “I will not let you go unless you bless me.” The man asked him, “What is your name?” “Jacob,” he answered. Then the man said, “Your name will no longer be Jacob, but Israel, because you have struggled with God and with humans and have overcome.” Jacob said, “Please tell me your name.” But he replied, “Why do you ask my name?” Then he blessed him there. So Jacob called the place Peniel, saying, “It is because I saw God face to face, and yet my life was spared.”
Our egos must be challenged to be overcome. When we start out on a spiritual path, the ultimate goal is liberation, freedom from the cycle of suffering. When we ask to be freed, we are given the means to do so. A friend and I recently discussed how blessed and lucky we were to have gone through some very difficult times. So much growth came from them and we can now use our past to help others with similar struggles. They say only the worthy student is tested, and when she is ready the teacher will appear. Suffering can be our greatest teacher, and you can’t learn a lesson without being tested. Our perceived demons might really be our angels, our perceived problems can turn out to be blessings, and our most difficult struggles can become our most memorable triumphs. Jacob carried the scars from his struggle his entire life, but he also obtained the blessing that he sought.
“Someone I loved gave me a box full of darkness. It took me years to understand that this, too, was a gift.” –Mary Oliver